Personal, pragmatic, if mostly uneventful, this feature unfolds with taut, insightful gravity.
Xavier Beauvois's aptly titled Of Gods and Men (in French with English subtitles) is based on true precarious and harrowing events occurring in the 1990s with maybe the most recognizable actors [for Western audiences] being Michael Lonsdale (Ronin) and Lambert Wilson (The Matrix Reloaded).
In a remote rural Cistercian monastery in an untamed area of Algeria dwell an octet of Gallic monks headed by Wilson's Christian. They have harmoniously become a part of a community with scarce supplies, looking after its well-being while immersed in prayer.
The slow-paced, but occasionally startling tale hinges on how this group grapples with an encroaching austere fundamentalism after members of Croatian crew are murdered. Will they try to prevail against such hideous injustice or head back home to France? Their final decision could have many difficult ramifications.
This well-rounded, if philosophical crisis of conscience is more than the seemingly futile divide between Muslims and Christians. The untrained director who's worked learned from the likes of Andre Technine creates an unsettling, quite involving fair-minded account that focuses on issues when it comes to the moral, political and spiritual.
A nuanced approach with spare dialogue into those caliphs well-versed in the Koran is something unfamiliar to many with divisiveness and violence threatening a unity and service they've provided throughout. Beauvois sets up discussions and, subsequently, confrontations that abruptly work with intimate intensity from a supreme devotion as the thespians embrace an understandably serious milieu.
Of Gods and Men may leave some mystified as much is going on besides what is seen in each individual frame. Even if the same viewpoint may not be shared, it's about a camaraderie as answers are sought out during government chagrin and denizens try to get on with everyday life. The result in a sun-drenched land is a timely, touching one that finds humanity from extremism.